Marvel and Walt Disney’s Black Panther has earned a smashing $201.8 million Fri-Sun and likely $235m Fri-Mon holiday opening. That’s the biggest February opening weekend ever, the biggest solo superhero launch (we can expect Deadpool to comment later this week), the biggest holiday opening (bigger than the $200m Wed-Sun opening of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen in 2009), the biggest Fri-Mon launch (bigger than the $153m Fri-Mon opening of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End in 2007) and the biggest non-sequel launch of all time.
It’s also the fifth-biggest Fri-Sun opening weekend of all time, behind only The Avengers ($207 million), Jurassic World ($208m), The Last Jedi ($220m) and The Force Awakens ($248m). It earned an A+ from Cinemascore, played evenly to men and women and snagged a terrific 2.66x weekend multiplier. That’s right in the comfort zone for MCU debuts, just below the likes of Thor: The Dark World (2.74x) and Doctor Strange (2.75x).
The film earned $75.8 million on Friday (eighth-biggest single day and eighth-biggest Friday), including $25.2m in Thursday previews. It then earned around $65.8m on Saturday (fourth-biggest Saturday ever), which is a mere 13% drop from opening day or a 31% jump if you take out the Thursday previews. And it should have around $60.096m for Sunday (second-biggest Sunday) and then $33.2m for Monday (the seventh-biggest Monday ever).
Oh, and with $169 million overseas thus far, not even counting Monday’s foreign numbers (nor major territories like China and Russia that have yet to open), Black Panther has earned at least $404m worldwide thus far. I think we can agree that Andy Serkis and Martin Freeman are huge box office stars. Sorry, that’s a mean joke, but I couldn’t resist. I have to also imagine that Fox’s Deadpool 2 marketing campaign will have something to say about all of this.
The whole “Black Panther proves that black movies can be box office dynamite!” narrative is both valuable and way overdue. We’ve known that movies fronted by minorities could be huge box office hits at least, at LEAST, since Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker’s Rush Hour opened with $31 million in September of 1998. That’s not even counting the likes of Eddie Murphy’s Beverly Hills Cop or Will Smith’s many, many hits. And let’s not forget those Fast and Furious moves, which proved that diverse casts were totally box office poison by earning record-breaking sums in China and around the world.
So, yeah, it shouldn’t be a surprise that a movie like Black Panther is a juggernaut. Like Wonder Woman last summer, it was the kind of thing for which fans have been waiting for their entire lives. It’s unfortunate that it took this long, as Hollywood may have finally figured out the value of “not a white guy” movie stars right as the idea of movie stars as a box office draw has become a passé notion to an audience hooked on brands. Still, when black movie stars got opportunities, be it something like ID4 or Rush Hour 2 or even Ride Along or Girls Trip, the fans tended to show up in relatively large numbers. The only surprise is that anyone is still surprised.
I have long argued that Hollywood erred badly by spending a decade trying to find the next Tom Cruise when it should have been looking for the next Will Smith. So, a valid question going forward is whether Chadwick Boseman will get star vehicles that aren’t biopics, whether Michael B. Jordan and Ryan Coogler will get to grow into a team worthy of Scorsese and De Niro or whether the likes of Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira and Letitia Wright will get further opportunities to shine. It’s not just a matter of “Daniel Kaluuya should be the next 007!” or “I hope we get an all-female MCU movie!” It’s about a variety of employment opportunities in movies big and small that their white male peers take for granted.
As noted yesterday, Ryan Coogler’s MCU movie, co-written by Coogler and Joe Robert Cole, is the event movie of a generation for moviegoing audiences yearning to see a big-budget comic book action fantasy blockbuster starring a cast mostly made up of folks who look more like Chadwick Boseman and Lupita Nyong’o than Andy Serkis and Martin Freeman. It helps that the movie is very good and filled with buzzy elements (the 007-ish action, Michael B. Jordan’s heartbreaking baddie, the likes of Nyong’o, Letitia Wright and Danai Gurira kicking butt and earning laughs, etc.), racially-specific politics (that’s a compliment) and Afrofuturistic content.
Coogler is coming off the acclaimed Fruitvale Station and Creed, so it’s like when Chris Nolan went from Memento to Insomnia to Batman Begins. Except, all due respect, Creed > Insomnia and this was the first Black Panther movie ever as opposed to the fifth Batman movie in 16 years.
The MCU is on a roll of late in terms of crowd-pleasing movies and big flicks that feel outside-the-box in terms of conventional super heroics and in terms of auteuristic intent on a blockbuster canvas. At this point, Marvel is arguably the most trusted brand in the business, especially in the realm of live-action blockbuster filmmaking. Unlike, for example, Wonder Woman, there was the pre-release presumption that the movie would be at least pretty good, as it wasn’t preceded by three relatively disappointing comic book superhero offerings.
Throw in a weak January and the pins were set up for a strike.
There is a shot, thanks to white-hot buzz (an A+ from CinemaScore) and not much in the four-quadrant realm until, ironically, Ava DuVernay’s A Wrinkle In Time on March 9, that it will be somewhat leggy. The four-day weekend screws things up, but MCU movies generally pull 2.4x multipliers, 2.7x multipliers or (rarely) 3x+ multipliers.
So, without fully factoring the Monday holiday into this, we could be looking at $484 million, $545m or (however unlikely) $605m+. Captain America: The Winter Soldier pulled a 2.75x multiplier ($94m/$259m) but obviously when you open with over $210m in your first four days much of your demand is already accounted for. Even if it ends up frontloaded for an MCU title, a Civil War-ish multiplier (2.27x) still gives Black Panther $458m domestic, essentially tying Avengers: Age of Ultron.
That alone would be just above Wonder Woman to be the biggest non-sequel superhero grosser ever and the fifth-biggest superhero flick behind Chris Nolan’s Dark Knight sequels and Joss Whedon’s Avengers flicks. Not exactly bad company. And that’s assuming it’s frontloaded. So, the key will be getting merely curious moviegoers into theaters and getting repeat business. There will be lots to discuss in the coming weeks, and yeah, I’ll be doing daily updates (give or take my schedule) for as long as the figures justify it.
But this isn’t just a blow to conventional wisdom about minority-led blockbusters, it’s a blow to conventional wisdom concerning the MCU. One of their more outside-the-box offerings, one of their most director-driven films and one of their most overtly political pictures yet, one that plays more like a drama than an action spectacular, is now on pace to be one of their very biggest movies. Like Pixar, I hope the MCU is realizing that its (stereotypically) riskiest bets turn out to be their biggest wins. Playing it safe is no longer the safe choice.